Title: Circle of Trust
Word count: 1700 words
Disclaimer: Not mine. No matter how much I wish it so.
Summary: Set after season three. The continued threat Morgana presents means Arthur needs all the help he can get. And Gwen knows that.
Notes: Written for last LAS challenge, for this art prompt.
Having such a close perspective on how Uther had reacted to and fought against his enemies over the years gave Morgana a unique advantage when she chose to attack Camelot. Gone were the more direct methods Morgause had apparently favored. Gwen knew better than anyone that Morgana preferred the subtle, more insidious ways to get what she wanted.
Like when the mysterious children arrived from an outlying village. Of course, Arthur had taken their stories of their village’s destruction at their word. His was the most trusting soul she had ever known, even after Morgana’s betrayal. He could hardly expect them to be Morgana’s eyes into the castle.
Only Gwen had suspected something was not quite right about the children. Telling Arthur was out of the question, since she knew he would never believe her, so she opted to tell Merlin of her fears instead. After she did, miraculously, they’d been exposed in court and the problem solved itself.
The same thing happened when she told Merlin she worried that the quest Elyan had undergone at some strange woman’s behest would put the knights in danger.
Then again when strange animals began prowling through the crops, animals nobody but a select few in the lower town could see. Merlin had taken her at her word. A day later, the animals were gone.
Arthur never seemed to question these resolutions. She tried telling him several times when they were alone, but in those moments, once he’d heard her reports about how the commoners were faring, he forbade any more talk about Camelot, or the knights, or the world in general if it didn’t involve kissing or comments about any of those things might lead to more than kissing.
Truth be told, when Arthur drew her against his hard body and began teasing the curve of her neck with whimsical brushes of his lips, she didn’t really wish to discuss politics or current events, either.
But then a patrol went missing. And another. And when a third failed to return from what should have been a routine scout of Camelot’s borders, even the lighthearted Gwaine started to worry.
With Uther still incapable of leading, it was Arthur who called the advisors into the great room to discuss their options. All of the knights were in attendance, too, as well as Merlin. Gwen pressed her ear to the thick door, straining to hear what was said, but the voices were mere murmurs, too indistinct to bear witness to. No arguments, no dissension. No indication that the talks were over until footsteps neared the door and she was forced to scuttle out of sight before she was caught eavesdropping.
Out of view of the others, she watched Merlin grab Gaius and drag him toward their quarters. She was tempted to follow, since she knew that even if Merlin didn’t tell her everything, he was far more likely to explain what was going on than Arthur was, but then Arthur emerged, head bowed, his jaw set as he turned toward the stairs. His path led him away from the others, alone and unchallenged. The solitude of his silhouette disappearing into the shadows compelled her to go after him. Because he needed to know, even if she wouldn’t be a part of whatever plan they had in mind, she was always with him in spirit.
He ended up in the armory and left the door slightly ajar behind him. Not once had he glanced behind him. Whatever decisions had been made amongst the court weighed him down. Even his steps had betrayed his concerns. Gwen lingered in the corridor, gnawing at her lip as her choices battled within her. Go to him, and risk his ill temper for distracting him in a time of crisis. Leave him alone, and risk his believing it was him against the world.
“I know you’re out there, Guinevere.” His low voice held no recriminations, but it held her in place all the same as his heavy footsteps approached the doorway. The door swung open to reveal him with a sword in his hand she didn’t recognize, as well as a shield that had seen more than its fair share of battles. Another question seemed poised on his lips, but his gaze rested on her for several seconds, moments when she didn’t think she was even breathing, before he nodded. “Walk with me.”
She fell in beside him, matching his slow steps with her own. Her thoughts still tumbled in her confusion, though the choices had shifted into new, just as worrisome configurations. Did he realize Merlin was such a strong ally? How much of a threat was Morgana’s latest attack? Did she need to rally the lower town to help?
So lost in her head, she barely noticed their path until he stopped in front of a heavy curtain. Pulling it aside, he edged out of the way to allow her to pass beyond it first, offering a crooked smile as she did.
The archway led onto a small balcony overlooking the stables and fields, with the marketplace teeming in the distance. It was a different view than that offered by the ramparts, or even the balcony used for royal announcements. This gave no perspective on the citadel or courtyard, but looked into the heart of Camelot, to the people who fed it, clothed it, helped it thrive. They were high enough for a brisk wind to catch her skirt and whip it around her legs. Gwen had to rub her arms to help stave off the chill.
Arthur didn’t seem to notice it. His gaze was on the horizon. “We’re marching out within the hour. Morgana’s gone too far this time.”
“Are you sure it’s her?” Gwen was, but she knew better than anybody that Arthur still held out hope the Morgana he’d grown up with would return.
“It’s her.” Said with a quiet resignation. A muscle in his tense jaw twitched. “She has to be stopped.”
“What if it’s a trap to lure you away from Camelot?”
“Then we spring it. I’m not leaving Camelot unprotected, though. Elyan and Percival are summoning the reserves they’ve been training from the outlying villages. Can you help ensure everyone is properly armed and taken care of?”
He honored her with more responsibilities like this every day, bringing her more tightly into his circle of trust with each task he set her to do. Now, it wasn’t just the court who saw her at his side. He pushed her into the public eye as well. They still regarded her as one of them, but more and more, they saw her as Arthur’s, too.
She was not the only vigilant ally he had, though. And this was the perfect chance to pave the way.
“I hope you’re taking Merlin with you.” She deliberately opted for a casual tone. It gave her the means to withdraw from the subject if Arthur wasn’t amenable to it.
The corner of his mouth twitched, though it wasn’t quite a smile. “Of course, I am. Someone has to keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.”
That wasn’t quite what she had in mind, though at least she didn’t have to fight for Merlin to go. “He’s actually improved quite a bit. Did you watch his last sparring match with Gwaine?”
“You mean, did I see how Merlin managed to not trip and land on his bottom more than once while Gwaine never got a scratch?” It was a full-blown grin now, amused and more relaxed than he’d been since leaving his advisors. “It didn’t escape my notice, no.”
“Well…” She took a deep breath, bracing herself. “Perhaps Merlin’s strengths aren’t with a sword. Perhaps his talents rest…elsewhere.”
Slowly, the mirth in Arthur’s features smoothed over. Though he still watched over the horizon, she had the distinct sensation that he saw everything she did, so kept her waiting for his response as neutral as possible.
It came with a quietly uttered declaration.
“I know they do.”
Her lungs burned from the breath she’d been holding, and she let it out with a slight tilt of her head to better read him. “You…know?”
“He’s been my servant for how long now?” When he glanced down at her, it wasn’t with recrimination. Gentle bemusement flickered in his eyes. “I would hope you’d have a little more faith in my powers of observation, Gwen.”
It was more than she’d hoped for, mostly because her suspicions about Merlin’s magic had been without proof. “But you’ve never said anything.”
“How could I? My father is still king. The ban on magic is still in place. And after Morgana…” He shook his head. “It’s safer for Merlin this way. And I can’t recognize his powers without weakening Camelot even more than it is.”
“But he should know.”
“He will. Some day. All of Camelot shall. For now, though, this is the best way for all of us.”
Her shoulders sagged in relief. As long as Merlin wasn’t in danger—and he wouldn’t be, with Arthur protecting him—that was all that mattered.
“I’m glad you’re taking him with you.”
“I have to. He’s one of the best weapons I have against Morgana. And besides, I know he’ll do everything in his power to help in the fight.”
“You trust him.”
“With everything that matters most to me. You.” He nodded toward the horizon. “And Camelot.”
The only thing that would have made that moment better was if Merlin had been there to see it. Because this was the king Gwen had always known Arthur would be. He might not have the crown, but with his determination to preserve his people—all of his people—he didn’t need it.
Slipping her arms around his waist, she burrowed into him. Not for warmth or protection, but to show how much she loved him, how proud she was of the man he was becoming. The wind and chill disappeared. Only she and Arthur existed.
An hour later, when Merlin came to fetch him for the journey, they still stood there, arms around each other, ready to face and defeat Camelot’s latest challenge.
With Merlin’s help.